There won't be as many spots for volunteers close to the action during the vice presidential debate at Centre College on Oct. 11, but tourism officials are busy recruiting anyone who wants to help Danville shine on the national stage.
Jennifer Kirchner, executive director of the Danville-Boyle County Convention and Visitor's Bureau, said her organization is trying to round up 80 volunteers to staff hospitality tables at five local hotels and the Debate Festival. She said people are needed to work four-hour shifts (8 a.m.-noon and 4-8 p.m.) starting Sunday, Oct. 7, until the debate.
Only 12 people had signed up as of Friday afternoon, so Kirchner is hopeful calls to the general public, civic groups and large employers she has contacted will be answered soon. She said the hospitality tables will be important for helping the hoards of travelers find their destination, promoting the area and giving a lasting impression of the town.
"Our hope is that our visitors from all over the world will receive a warm welcome once in Danville," Kirchner said.
Volunteers are required to attend one of several training sessions to prepare them for their work, but Kirchner hopes employees from local businesses and others who interact with public on a regular basis will also take advantage of the one scheduled for 1 p.m. Sept. 24 in the Ewen Room at Centre's Campus Center.
That session, provided by the consortium of area counties in Tour Southeast Kentucky, will feature information from Centre officials as well as STAR (Service, Training, Achievement, Recognition) customer service training. Those who go will learn about listening skills, phone and e-mail etiquette, team work and other tools for dealing with the public.
"It will also be an event that can benefit customer relations long term, so we encourage everyone to invite their employees, coworkers, board members and community partners," Kirchner wrote in an e-mail.
With mere weeks to go before the event, Centre actually has all the help it needs.
Ann Young, director of student life and housing, is reprising her role as the volunteer coordinator for the debate. She said the landscape has changed drastically since the last vice presidential debate, which happened before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when even major political events had less stringent security measures.
The college already has the necessary volunteers to perform most of the tasks necessary to pull off the event, Young said. About 400 people in all will be working as volunteers through the school and of those about 250 will be students, who Young said were given priority.
This time credentials are required to be anywhere near the debate hall, the media center and other areas where volunteers could move freely in 2000. While fewer people will be in the main halls, Young said there have to be back-ups to the back-ups for those who do get the plum positions.
"Every job is important, but they won't all be glamor jobs," Young said, adding how difficult it is to try and plug the hundreds of people she would like to give a backstage view of the debate into the limited number of roles.
The total number of volunteers is smaller than last time but their jobs, which haven't been assigned yet, will be vital to making things run smoothly. Young said workers will be asked to do everything from answering phones in the help center or fetching miscellaneous items, to helping to prep and assist at the Debate Festival.
Many alumni are also assigned to work as greeters at airports and hotels in Lexington and Louisville. Although advances in technology since the last debate have made some of the hospitality related volunteer jobs obsolete, Young said there will still be a human touch in the remote locations and on campus.
"You can't replace a personal recommendation for a restaurant or a personal welcome to the community with a website or an iPhone app," Young said.
Danville City Commissioner Kevin Caudill was a volunteer during the last debate, helping check credentials for people entering the Norton Center where the debate will again be held. Caudill did everything from greeting many of the national media members, including 2000 debate moderator Barnard Shaw from CNN, to being a "pizza go-between" when pies were delivered but the delivery driver couldn't get through the barricades.
One of the highlights of his volunteer experience was the arrival of the candidates, when he said a serpentine line of Kentucky State Police cars wove down Walnut Street before circling around the Norton Center parking lot. After several minutes of misdirection, the door opened to one of the cars and Caudill had his brush with the future Vice President — he glimpsed the top of Dick Cheney's head.
Caudill is aware access may be tighter even for those working on the debate, but has told Young he's willing to do anything needed.
"It is just fun to be a part of and feel like you are helping out with something that's so big for the community," Caudill said.